WOOSTER, Ohio — Dairy farming is about more than just milking cows. Today’s producer has to keep an eye on everything from labeling issues to renewable energy.
Ohio dairy farmers gathered March 4 in Wooster for updates on these topics and others. The Ohio Dairy Producers Association conference brought together state and national experts to answer several important questions.
Q. Is anything new happening with Ohio’s dairy labeling debate?
A. This topic continues to be hot, but no legal action has been taken since the Ohio Department of Agriculture released its ruling Feb. 7.
The department has proposed a rule to ban dairy labels from using phrases like “rbST-free” or “hormone free.” But labels can contain a statement saying the milk was produced from cows not supplemented with rbST if that statement is followed by a disclaimer noting there’s no significant difference in milk, whether or not cows are given rbST.
“We tried to be as transparent and as fair as we could with our proposed rule,” said Doug O’Brien, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
While many dairy farmers are upset that they’ve been asked to sign affidavits promising not to use rbST, O’Brien said that’s not something the department can control. The department’s authority lies within labeling laws, he said.
Jamie Jonker, National Milk Producers Federation regulatory affairs director, said it’s probably too late to change the labeling situation. But the industry should continue working to position itself better for future arguments against approved technologies.
Q. What do consumers expect from dairy farmers?
A. Consumers have always expected safe, high-quality food. But now they expect proper animal welfare and sustainability, too, according to Shawn Althauser of Wendy’s quality assurance department.
The recent animal abuse allegations at a slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., have drawn even more public attention to farm practices, Althauser said.
“The dairy industry hasn’t changed, but the way people look at it will,” he told producers.
And it doesn’t take much to tarnish the cattle industry’s historically good image.
“Unfortunately, it only takes a couple of hiccups by poor performers to change that,” he said.
Althauser said proper welfare practices and sustainability begins with a careful self-evaluation.
Q. How do I keep my farm profitable as feed costs rise?
A. With recent increases in corn prices, farmers have found themselves paying more and more to feed their cattle. But Normand St-Pierre, an extension dairy specialist at Ohio State University, said there’s an important question producers should ask before handing over their cash: Do cows require corn?
According to St-Pierre, the answer is no.
Studies have shown that cows produce as well on a barley-based diet as they do on a corn-based ration.
Also, St-Pierre said it’s important to give cattle the right amount of feed. Don’t over-feed and hope for the best. Consult a nutritionist and provide the proper nutrients without buying or feeding more than necessary.
And finally, don’t be afraid to question the need for every feed ingredient. St-Pierre said it’s OK to alter cows’ diets based on the price of milk and feed inputs.
Q. What are lawmakers doing for dairy farmers?
A. Federal lawmakers have a variety of ag-related topics on their hands right now, according to NMPF’s Jonker. The most notable topic is the farm bill, which is facing a March 15 deadline for action.
Other hot topics in Washington D.C. include immigration reform, federal order issues, animal care, cloning, National Animal Identification, environmental issues and sustainability.
Q. Can carbon credits increase revenue on my farm?
A. Absolutely, according to Jim Jensen, vice president of development at Environmental Credit Corp.
Jensen’s company designs, finances and installs lagoon covers to capture methane and other emissions. Those emission savings are then used to create carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange and other global markets.
Farmers are not required to pay any start-up costs through this program, but the carbon credits are shared with the company.
The money for the program comes from private investors. Any farmer who stores liquid manure for long periods of time is eligible to participate.
Q. What do I need to know about renewable energy?
A. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has proposed an initiative called Building Ohio Jobs, which could create 80,000 new jobs in the Buckeye State during the next four to five years.
If voters decide to back the $1.7 billion bond proposal on the ballot in November, it will pump $250 million into the state’s renewable energy development.
ODA’s O’Brien said Ohio is well-positioned to help meet the demand for corn.
He added there’s been a lot of interest in biomass and methane and the state is carefully assessing its next move.
“We’re trying to determine, at the department, where we go from here,” he said.
O’Brien called renewable fuel sources the “new reality” and encouraged dairy farmers to move forward as technology advances.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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